For all the glittering array of talent now lining up for Labour leadership, there is one MP who hasn’t thrown his hat in the ring — but who would surely be a shoo-in if he did. He’s a cult figure with Labour members, who regard him as something close to a saint.
The MP is, of course, Jeremy Corbyn.
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Rebecca Long Bailey has rightly been pilloried for awarding him 10/10 for his leadership, despite his leading the party to its worst defeat since 1935. But I’d bet my mortage on her being far from alone. Mr Corbyn remains as popular as ever with members.
Jeremy Corbyn will stop being leader in April. But he won’t stop being Jeremy Corbyn — the Jeremy Corbyn, that is, who spent decades campaigning and speaking about his political passions, and who will be given a new freedom when he steps down. That’s why Labour is going to find it impossible to escape from his shadow in 2020 — and beyond.
Just look at what happened after the election. Twitter, effectively a Left-wing echo chamber, was filled with Labour members tweeting that they want Mr Corbyn to stay on. They regard the result not as an indictment of his leadership — but of the voters. Labour, they believe, would have won were it not for the distorting effect of Brexit.
I write this not just to expose the self-delusion of so many Labour members. It is, rather, to understand the implications. Because whoever is chosen to succeed him as leader will, by definition, be second best. This matters not because of the members but because of Mr Corbyn.
Anyone who thinks that even after leading Labour to such a catastrophic defeat, Mr Corbyn will simply retire to his allotment, clearly hasn’t paid attention to his first 32 years as an MP, before he became leader in 2015.
As a backbencher — and indeed long before he was first elected in 1983 — pretty much all he did was campaign and speak about the various causes that motivated him. These were the same causes which have remained with him all his adult life and which haunted him as leader — such as his hero worship of dictators such as Castro and Chavez, his support for terrorists like Hamas and the IRA and his hatred of the West and regard for our enemies, such as Iran and Russia.
Consider his behaviour since losing the election. He refused to step down immediately, despite the urgings of colleagues. He has posted a series of bizarre videos on social media, behaving as if he had led Labour to some kind of triumph. As 2019 ended, he described it as “quite the year for…our Labour movement”. That’s one way of putting it.
And then, yesterday, he began the first of his ‘living dead’ Prime Minister’s Questions sessions, a humiliated and discredited figure nonetheless insisting on his right to ask the Prime Minister six questions every week.
The idea of him going silent when he stops being leader — even as a courtesy to the new leader — is preposterous. For Mr Corbyn, loyalty has only ever been a one-way street. As leader, he demanded loyalty from his MPs — but when he was a backbencher, he never once accepted the idea that he should respect the party leader or stop campaigning for his causes. Famously, when Labour was in government between 1997 and 2010, he voted against the party whip 428 times, far more than any other Labour MP.
Mr Corbyn is typical of a strand of the Left that believes its conscience gives it licence to behave as it sees fit. This was part of what made him such a terrible leader, since he has always been convinced of his own rectitude. Anyone who disagreed with or questioned him was therefore, by definition, immoral.
This will not stop when he returns to the backbenches. He will not suddenly lose the arrogance that has fuelled him as leader. Rather, he will revert to his previous behaviour, offering vigorous support to his favourite causes. And he will do so freed from the pressures of leadership.
We can expect to see him re-joining the Stop the War Coalition, the Trotskyite group he used to chair which campaigns against the West and supports dictators such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
We can expect to see him speaking at the numerous fringe protests against the West which occupy the weekends of the hard Left. And we can expect to see him lending his support to other extremist campaigns and supporting Russia and Iran.
But there is a big difference from such behaviour before he became leader. Back then, he was a minor backbencher — a figure of no significance other than among his fellow Trotskyites. No one else paid him the least attention when he droned on. Now, however, he is the former leader of the Labour Party.
No matter who succeeds him, Mr Corbyn will revert to type. He is incapable of doing otherwise. That will be annoying enough for a new leader from his own hard Left wing of the party. But imagine if the new leader is someone such as Sir Keir Starmer or Jess Phillips, who will be genuinely seeking to distance themselves in the eyes of the public from Mr Corbyn. There he will be, campaigning and vocal. And there, too, will be the members, who regard him as their political hero.
Labour’s Nightmare on Corbyn Street is far from over.
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